Keep Albert in St. Louis: Why Pujols’ venture into free agency is bad for the game | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Keep Albert in St. Louis: Why Pujols’ venture into free agency is bad for the game

My esteemed colleague and rival fantasy owner Griffin Phelps posted a few days ago that Albert Pujols’ failure to sign an extension with the Cardinals was good for baseball.  Griffin’s principal argument is that, at a time when baseball season is over but the other three major American sports are in full swing, the impending free agency of a talent like Albert Pujols will command the attention of a huge portion of the sports world.  He’s absolutely right about that.  After all, while LeBron’s “Decision” last July severely injured his reputation among fans, it did lend national attention to the NBA during the heat of summer, when everyone normally is focused only on baseball.  A decision from Pujols, who some argue is the greatest player in the game today, would likely garner equal hype for baseball even without the charade of an hour-long ESPN special.

However, while Griffin’s argument undoubtedly has merit, I would like to go on the record as saying that I hope Albert Pujols remains a Cardinal for life.  My principal reason for this is that the market for a player of Pujols’ talent would be unlike anything ever seen before in Major League Baseball.  If he is free to negotiate with all thirty major league teams, it is inevitable that one of those teams will give him a monster deal to end all monster deals.  This may be good for Pujols, but I’m not so sure it’s good for Major League Baseball.

When thinking about the bidding war that will ensue, the term “Winner’s Curse” comes to mind.  For any non-student of economics, the Winner’s Curse is simply a theory that at an auction, there will be many different values (in this case, 30) put on a commodity by the various bidders.  Since the bidders are all major league GMs and therefore experts in the field, it is likely that the true valuation of the player lies somewhere in the middle of all of the values placed on him by all of the owners.  Yet the owner who bids the most will end up receiving Pujols’ services, and as such has probably overpaid, even for the greatest player in baseball.  This owner might win the auction, but he could be a loser for it in the long run.

The overvaluation of Pujols would cause problems for all major league franchises.  For one, it would raise the salary ceiling for all future players in their negotiations with their teams.  Salaries that are now judged against the maximum set by A-Rod’s $250M deal with the Texas Rangers would instead be compared with Pujols’s deal.  This would raise the price of all free agents in the game, even those not in Pujols’ class or even close to him.  Anyone who believes this to be a crackpot theory should know that Tony La Russa is having similar thoughts. This increase would hamper the efforts of small- or middle-market franchises without deep-pocketed owners (like, say, the Colorado Rockies) to sign quality free agents or to retain players who are about to become free agents.

When discussing the ingredients of a championship team, the importance of having deep pockets would increase, and as such, the importance of shrewd roster management and making the most of the resources one has would necessarily decrease.  As a baseball fan, this is anathema to what I love most about our game.  Though I am far more upset by the actions of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ front office, which pocketed revenue from MLB’s central fund and used it to turn a profit on a losing ballclub, than I am about owners lavishing free agents with ridiculous money, it does frustrate me that, barring a change in ownership, my Rockies will never, ever sign a big-ticket free agent.  If Pujols becomes a free agent, this frustration will only deepen.

There are other reasons that I would like to see Pujols in Cardinal red for the remainder of his career.  Not the least of these is that if Pujols remains in St. Louis, he will be revered as a hero for the rest of his days, but if he leaves for a monster deal and plays only very well instead of like the greatest player in the game, he’ll be viewed as a disappointment.  I would hate to see a player of Pujols’ caliber booed by fans in his home ballpark, but I could easily picture Yankee fans booing him for not living up to a $30 million-per-year deal.

However, putting aside my feelings about Pujols and the St. Louis organization, The most important reason that I’d like to see Pujols remain a Cardinal is that his free agency will tip the scales of power in baseball even further toward the rich.  And though the national media attention that a free-agent market for Albert Pujols would generate certainly could go a long way toward increasing baseball’s popularity in this country, a further shift in power toward those with deeper pockets is the last thing baseball needs right now.

10 Comments

  1. JP says:

    Justin, stop being a towel and whining about how the Rockies haven’t signed any quality free agents. Be happy with the Rockies signing CarGo and Tulo to big deals. At least the Rockies keep their talent. The Royals have a tradition of developing good players and then losing them to trades or free agency (Dye, Beltran, Damon, Greinke, Buck). If Dayton Moore starts trading away our developed prospects in 2-3 years, I will cry for a mutiny!

    Good article Towel. And you can whine about the Rockies. In my opinion, every fan of a team with a payroll under $200 million can whine all they want. Looking at you Yankee fans.

    Pizzle

  2. Braf says:

    Towel, see it any different now that the cards
    have to wait until 2013 to be competitive again? Also, pizzle, thanks for reading. Just watch dude. Your royals will be in the playoffs by 2014. Maybe 2013.

  3. Estefan says:

    my alter ego might have been a bit aggressive in eliminating st. louis this early, but, if the cards finish below .500 and wainwright isn’t ready to start the season in 2012, i think albert will find greener pastures regardless of what’s best for baseball because missing the playoffs is not what’s best for albert.

  4. Flips says:

    Towel, first off let me say that I love the piece. Peaceful, educated discussions are just fun. I completely agree that if Pujols gets a retard size deal that it really hurts mid/small market teams. But, so what? That is the nature of the fickle beast known as the open market. I guess you can say I am not a huge fan of parity, when it comes on the heels of preventing earners to spend.
    Also, I believe you misunderstood my take on the popularity part of my argument. I meant not just during spring time, but for baseball as a whole. Viewership is down, TV ratings are at some of their lowest points for the World Series in over 2 decades (hard for 7 games to compete with 1 when you are a fat lazy American), and it’s popularity is just not where it used to be. If Pujols’s name comes out of people’s mouths all day every day over the course of the summer, I only see that as a positive.
    That said, I really just want Albert to get the hell out of the NL Central so my Astros have a chance.

  5. Sen. Towel says:

    Dude, your name is estefan! Awesome.

    Yeah, I agree with you, Steve. Albert doesn’t care about what’s best for baseball, nor should he. He also shouldn’t care about what’s best for the Cardinals. I imagine Albert will leave at the end of the season, and I’m sure he’ll have good reasons for doing that. I’ll hold no ill will against Pujols, the Cardinals or anyone else if it happens. It just doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

  6. Sen. Towel says:

    Griff, that makes plenty of sense. Baseball absolutely could use a shot in the arm popularity-wise. And I’m also experiencing a little cognitive dissonance with my own argument. As an economics guy, I love capitalism and the free market, and generally oppose excess regulations on business. I suppose it is unreasonable to have such a differing view on baseball since baseball is really not that much different from other businesses. He who is willing to invest the most ought to have the best shot at winning it all. From an economic perspective, that’s how it should work. I guess I just wish there were more of an even playing field is all.

    And my views on where Pujols should go in free agency are similar to yours in their motivations–just keep him the hell away from the NL West, particularly San Francisco.

  7. Clint says:

    Both agree, and disagree. Very nice post.

    I think it’s good for baseball if he stays in St. Louis. Lets face it, it could never be as storybook as it would be if he wears Cardinal Red his whole career. But he’s making it hard for that to happen. I say he ends up caving in the 11th hour for this reason, he knows he’s like a Musial in that city. His legend grows if he stays.

    But the rich won’t get richer. The rich isn’t in position to go and get him. Unless we’re talking Cubs or Dodgers. Or a Dark Horse. Anaheim. New York Mets. Seattle? But I don’t think it will be Boston, NY (AL), or any of the other mighty spenders.

  8. Eddie says:

    I was almost with you until you said “the Colorado Rockies.” $80 million for CarGo and $134.5 million for Tulo? Seems like they aren’t hurting too badly.

  9. I really don’t know the answer to this. Pujols would certainly bring a lot of revenue to a team. More than 30 million? Perhaps.

    For how long? Who knows?

    I wouldn’t mind the big contracts so much if there was a discount when injuries occur. I don’t see why guys feel they should get paid top dollar if they are not out on the field producing.

    I would prefer an incentive based system, but that’s hard to do with the union involved.

  10. Oscar says:

    So Tony LaRussa is the gold standard when evaluating crackpot theories? He’s hardly an expert on the issue.

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